The Master Gardeners learn early in their training to be prepared to receive several rather intriguing questions over the Master Gardener Hot Line. One question that is always asked during spring and summer seasons is “We have noticed several green-colored lizards on the plants in our yard that look like the animated gecko in TV commercials. Are they harmful?”
TV commercials may be informative in terms of marketing claims but stay with The Discovery Channel, PBS and the Galveston County Extension Office for the educational facts of nature!
Lizards make up one of the most diverse and successful groups of modern reptiles. The green lizard that Texas Gulf Coast gardeners frequently observe in their yards is called several names including garden lizards, the changeable lizards and changeable anoles. Many gardeners have also been referring to this lizard as a gecko even before the advent of memorable commercials on television. However, true geckos are a distinctly different type of lizard.
Anoles are often called chameleons because they can change color from green to brown and vice versa. The color changes are caused by hormones and can be triggered by temperature, background color or “mood.” A hormone called intermedin secreted by the pituitary gland is responsible for these changes. Green anoles tend to remain green when temperatures are more than 70 degrees F., whereas they tend to remain brown during cool weather conditions.
Even though it’s known by numerous common names, the more “acceptable” common names are “anole” or “green anole.” Biologists always refer to this lizard by its scientific name: Anolis carolinensis.
Anoles are adept at climbing trees, shrubs, fences and walls. Since they are active during daytime, they are easily observed as they go about their activities in the garden, park or even in our homes. Anoles are frequently seen basking in the sun or hunting insects around Gulf Coast homes.
There’s no need to worry about this lizard as it is not harmful to humans or your pets. In fact, if you’ve seen these lizards in your yard or home, it most likely means you’re not using pesticides that could harm it. In fact, these lizards are beneficial, as they do feed on a wide variety of small insects such as crickets, cockroaches, moths, grubs, beetles, flies and grasshoppers. They do not chew their food but swallow it whole.
Anoles grow to 5-7 inches in length. They lay their tiny white eggs one at a time in moist places (e.g., moist soil, rotten stumps or logs, or forest floor litter). Eggs typically require an incubation period of six-weeks (depending on temperatures) and egg hatching occur from late spring to fall.
While captive anoles can live up to 7 years, males in the wild seem to live no more than a couple of years. Birds are a major enemy and often anoles will be seen with missing tails and body wounds, including holes in their sides. One habit that makes for lost tails seems may be the way anoles will perch upside-down while hunting. Their tail sticks out in the air and often flips back and forth like a cat. No doubt this is an easy mark for a bird in the vicinity. The anoles can re-grow their tail, but the new tail part lacks bones, often has a deformed look, and usually is a constant grayish brown color.
When male anoles are feeling particularly aggressive, they “threaten” by opening and closing their large, red dewlap at will. This colorful display is typically reserved for defending territory against other male anoles or trying to entice females. Although anoles attempt to stay hidden most of the time, both from their prey and their predators, the males certainly take a lot of chances.
This gesture, by male anoles, is often accompanied by the lizard’s antics of bobbing up and down–sort of like doing push-ups. The lizard is only trying to look tough–it’s harmless and actually can be quite fun to watch, especially when you know how beneficial it is, dining on a variety of insects from your garden.
Beneficials in the Garden & Landscape is an Earth-KindTM program coordinated through Extension Horticulture at Texas A&M University. Earth-Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.
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